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Written by Kanika Gupta
and AJ Tibando

Kanika:
It’s hard to imagine that it’s been three years since Social Journal was born.

What initially started as a blog to share ideas and stories grew into something much much greater.

Looking back, the first year can be generalized as dipping our toes in the water: testing out our ideas, building our initial team, establishing a support network, and releasing our closed Beta for our community to sample. As our experimenting began generating lots of positive feedback, we felt comfortable enough in our second year to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool.

It started by us launching our open Beta in a big way at the SociaLIGHT conference and within a few months, we were ready to take SoJo out of Beta and trust that our community would help build it out along the way. SoJo’s team of dedicated volunteers came together and a real organization started to take shape.

If Year One was about dipping our toes in the water and Year Two about jumping into the deep end, it’s fair to say this past year was like getting thrown into the ocean with the sharks, rough waters, and no safety net.

For starters, the year kicked off with a major burnout and a lot of frustration. I finally admitted that I was stretched too thin and that it was no longer sustainable or realistic for SoJo to be run solely with part-time unpaid volunteers. With momentum picking up, we needed a dedicated full-time team of paid staff to carry us through our next phase of development.

So my top priority became fundraising. To be very blunt (and to keep with the water metaphors), fundraising for an early-stage social innovation start-up was like swimming upstream with jellyfish. Despite all your effort, you feel like you’re making no progress and getting stung at almost every conversation. It was incredibly exhausting and frustrating trying to convince people to listen to a message that they weren’t ready or interested in hearing and to preserve the little sanity and energy I had left, in the best interest of SoJo, by the end of 2012 I vowed to stop fighting.

Everyone on board SoJo believed that we were on the cusp of something big with our ideas. If the ecosystem within which we operated in wasn’t able to see or ready to support it, then we would just have to trust in ourselves and look for support elsewhere.

Our rockstar team also had some inevitable changes, with team members transitioning out and moving on to other opportunities. We took some risks by hiring high school co-op students, and other volunteers chose to come on board full-time, and we eventually began to introduce hierarchy into the organization.

Despite the mountain of setbacks, some pretty awesome stuff happened in the first six months of SoJo’s third year (Sep-Jan 2012), which is what really kept us going. We were featured in Forbes.com and other international press; the subject of an Ivey Business School case; invited to speak almost every week in a different city throughout Canada and the north-eastern United States to tell our story; and invited to apply for the Ontario Trillium Future Fund.

Then, with no warning, the storm came in. In early 2013, a brain injury forced me to take a step back and focus on my health, and ultimately let go entirely of contact with SoJo.  I had to temporarily sever all connections with SoJo and leave the team on their own – without my guidance or leadership – in order to nurse myself back to health. And it was uncertain when I would be able to return (this blog post is the first since the departure).

Despite SoJo’s ability to weather previous storms, my sudden departure was unlike anything SoJo had experienced - which caused a lot of anxiety amongst all of us.  But did we ever show that storm who’s boss. Within a few days of my injury, AJ (a volunteer at the time) had the courage to quit her job and took a leap of faith to join SoJo full-time - only a few weeks before her wedding - and take charge of the ship.

AJ: I started 2013 working as a Senior Advisor, Social Policy for the Minister of Community and Social Services. While that was where I started the year, I knew I wasn’t going to be there for much longer. I had been volunteering with SoJo for about 8 months and was itching to leave the world of government and politics for an experience in the start-up community. Kanika and I had bonded during my time at SoJo as we quickly grew to see each other as partners, and I knew that the two of us working together at SoJo full-time would be close to unstoppable.

When Kanika got injured, I was already making preparations to leave my job for SoJo – the injury just put it all into hyperdrive.  And I was looking forward to transitioning between worlds and easing into the new role, which of course never happened.  What did happen was that on Friday I was a volunteer and on Monday found myself in the role of Acting CEO

To say the first few weeks were rough would be the understatement of the century. Kanika is not a “sit still” kind of person; and she had a ton of meetings, speeches, events and other commitments lined up, as well as grant applications and partnerships in the works. We have a large team of volunteers, with new members that were about to join, and they needed to be reassured that things would carry on. On day one, my ‘crisis management’ skills were put to the test, as I had to pick up the pieces on all of her commitments and find a way to follow through on them, all without having the luxury to speak with her for context or guidance. 

This pushed me way outside of my comfort zone. For example, I had never given a speech before and found myself within a few weeks on stage in the front of a packed room, standing in for her. Sure we could have cancelled her commitments – I’m sure organizers would have been more than understanding – but these were good opportunities for SoJo and I knew Kanika would never want SoJo to miss out on something just because she wasn’t there to do it.

As the weeks passed and turned into months, things settled down into a weird ‘new normal’ and the team found its stride. The injury brought us all together and connected us as a team, as we all had to really rely on each other to get things done. And we had some great milestones that helped us along, including our first investment – a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Future Fund allowing SoJo to finally have a team of full-time paid staff – and a handful of exciting new partners, eager to support us.

Now that September is almost over, it definitely feels like SoJo has weathered the storm, and come out that much stronger for it. We’ve navigated more uncertainty and ambiguity over the past 8 months than most companies experience over their entire existence. And through it we’ve proven that our team is adaptable, resilient and filled with grit and determination – the things no start-up bootcamp will ever be able to teach.

Kanika and AJ: As we begin to enter into our 4th year, we have the humility to anticipate the inevitable twists and turns, as well as pleasant surprises in our ongoing journey of being the premier source of support and guidance for individuals passionate about making the world a better place. The battle scars acquired over the past year has also given us a fearlessness that we can and will take on anything that gets in our way to achieving our vision.

As Kanika’s health starts to improve, she’s thrilled to get back involved with SoJo; however, this time in a very different capacity, which will surely be an interesting experience for all of us on the team.

All great things take time.

After taking stock of the past 12 months – and last 3 years - it’s clear that our goals are unchanged and our plans are as ambitious as before. Now with greater clarity on the paths to execution and an organization that’s stronger than ever, the only thing that we can say with certainty about the next 12 months is this: you’ll want a front row seat to watch everything that we’re about to accomplish.

 
 
PictureSocial Journals, courtesy of Ecojot!
Written by Team SoJo, compiled and after-thoughts by Zainab

We're (officially) 1!

Though SoJo has been in the works for a while (our first blog post was on September 20 2010!), we officially launched last year in June.

We've got a lot of reasons to celebrate this birthday. In celebration of our first year, here's a (incomplete) compilation of our reflections on what SoJo means to us on the team:

"What SoJo means to me: Taking a risk and choosing the path less travelled (but more meaningful!)" - Myra
"SoJo means making the world a better place through social innovation" - Adil
"SoJo is the future of online social innovation" - Jesse
"SoJo: A social platform to test your innovation ideas that helps society" - Himanshu
"SoJo means helping others and helping others understand" - Kaitlin
"The perfect place to join a wonderful community together" - Sabrina
"SoJo means individuals with access to the internet can join a community and tap into a plethora of tips, tools, advice, and stories to inspire and support them in their entrepreneurial journey." - Shauna
"To me, SoJo is an amazing platform where smart, motivated individuals help other smart, motivated individuals make the world a better place." - Kya
SoJo to me represents:
Friends
Balance
Inspiration
Future
Change
Empowerment
- AJ
And finally... what does SoJo mean to me? Perhaps I should have written down my response last night with everyone else at the team meeting. As I compile this list, I can't help but feel wonderfully overwhelmed by our passion, our dedication, our drive, our belief in what we're doing here at SoJo.

I first joined SoJo in February 2012, and have felt us grow as an organization and as a team since then. As Kanika said in her reflections about the launch, the magic behind SoJo really lies in our team.

Yet this magic could never happen without you, our users and our partners, the people who inspire us to continue what we're hoping to do with SoJo. Thank you for visiting the site, reading the blog, subscribing to our newsletter, telling us your stories, and sharing your expertise and advice. Thank you for being with us from the beginning, through the good and the bad, and here today.
So thank you!
This supportive, engaged community is what SoJo means to me. 
You're truly worth the magic.
 
 
Written by AJ Tibando
It's been two weeks since I got back from my vacation.  Vacations are the best for many reasons - a chance to relax, unwind from daily stress, get away from work and emails and responsibilities and focus on yourself.  They also give you a chance to step back from the busyness of your day to day activities, gain perspective on the big picture and re-centre.  Since this wasn't just a vacation, but was also my honeymoon, I was adamant that I was going to unplug 100% and with all of the stress leading up to the wedding and the changing circumstances at SoJo with Kanika being away, I was more than ready to get re-centered.

We went to Europe for just over two weeks - Paris, Milan and Scotland - and it was wonderful.  Being in different countries, eating different food and listening to different languages helped me to unwind and shed a layer of stress that had been building up over the months.  It definitely helped me to step out of my bubble and gain perspective on work, SoJo and what we're trying to do, as well as some perspective on life.  There's nothing like vacationing in countries where the essence of life is to eat, drink and live well to remind you about what's really important.

The other great thing about being away, is coming back and seeing how much got done without you.  Zainab and Jesse and the whole SoJo team managed to 'wow' me with how much they accomplished in the two weeks I was away and it was great motivation for me to dive back in on my return.  Yesterday, Zainab left for vacation - she will be gone for two weeks - and Jesse and I are determined to 'wow' her when she gets back.
 
 
Written by Zainab

Yes, I do realize Hug an Entrepreneur Day is, well, made up.

However, we could all use a hug - especially when you're an entrepreneur. Here's why:
Three of the many ways you can celebrate:
a) go ahead, hug an entrepreneur today!
b) tell us why you're an entrepreneur by tweeting @The_SoJo with the hashtag #hugday ...
c) or you can tell us why on our Facebook page
 
 
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The last day of the year is always a very reflective day for me. Reflecting on all that was accomplished and learned -- and how that will influence behaviour and decisions in the coming year.

2011 was a highly experimental exploratory year. While there was great confidence in the need for a resource like SoJo, we didn't know exactly HOW it would come to life.  With100s of exploratory meetings and discussions, and an incredible amount of hard work the year ended with our first beta product launch.

2012 can be summarized as the year of fighting. With a product under our belt an increased clarity on how SoJo fits into the world, we were:
  • Fighting to prove our legitimacy to prospective partners
  • Fighting to explain the value of SoJo to people who just weren't listening
  • Fighting to establish and defend our legal structure (which we're still figuring out)
  • Fighting to convince funders of the impact created by SoJo
  • Fighting to get the attention of people who blatantly dismiss and ignore us
  • Fighting against a system and sector that operates fundamentally in contradiction to our values
  • Fighting to show the world that we are capable of doing the intangible and achieving excellence

Demand for SoJo's resources are higher than ever. At the same time, our team is more stretched than ever before. I need to be cautious of how we allocate our resources and energy. Mental energy expended on fighting is wasted resources that serve no value to SoJo. I'm done fighting. I'm done with the associated negativity. I'm done with trying to prove myself or SoJo to others.

Most of my talks this year were centered on struggle, adversity and overcoming the naysayers. SoJo is in a beautiful position to invent the future. It is so much more powerful to inspire through a vision, instilling values of an ideal of what the world should look like, rather than focus on its shortcomings.

I started this year with a resolution not to drive myself into the ground. Fighting (or the perceived need to fight) was exhausting, and in many ways brought out the worst in me. It took a toll on me mentally and can be attributed to an unpleasant burnout. Since I'm not really good at keeping resolutions, I've now decided to end the year with leaving behind Fighting.

SoJo is a moving train. We will gladly welcome onboard anyone who shares our vision and commitment to seeing it a reality -- but the train will not stop or slow down for the those who don't make it to the platform on time. They can catch us at another station, but for now, SoJo needs to value itself more and trust that it has all the support it needs to push forward.

While I let go of fighting, I hope to liberate this chip on my shoulder which has only been growing deeper with time. The ecosystem was not very kind to me in the early days of SoJo, and continues to act in ways that I don't agree with. As a response to these frustrations, I've been sub-conscientiously trying to prove everyone wrong. Instead of wanting to prove people wrong, I need to stop reacting and focus on proactively building the future. Over the past couple of months, SoJo has achieved phenomenal success, recognition and we have the strongest team ever.
The best way to end 2012 is to let go of the negative energy and celebrate what makes us awesome.


 
 
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Yesterday I was honoured as one of Canada's Top100 Most Powerful Women by the Women's Executive Network. In its 10th year, this award recognizes the professional achievements of women in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in Canada. Winners are selected based on their strategic vision and leadership, their organization’s financial performance, and their commitment to their communities. See SoJo's Press Release.

All of the winners were invited to an exclusive forum yesterday morning, where leadership challenges and stories were discussed very candidly. In the afternoon, we all participated in a broader leadership summit called "An afternoon of Inspired Leadership" where past winners shared their insights and knowledge on how we can advance ourselves in our careers and how to be better leaders.

It was humbling to be among a group of such distinguished and accomplished women across all disciplines. And although I was one of the youngest individuals in the room, it felt as though there was no hierarchy or distinction between myself and the CEOs and Directors of some of Canada's largest organizations.

As a early-stage startup entrepreneur, going to professional development seminars always felt like a luxury. Most leadership development programs are expensive, and never seemed to be a priority. Without any direct reports, I've been forced to learn much on my own; through experiences and from the advice of others. Yesterday was different then other conferences that I've attended. Being among my peers, with a focused agenda, and poignant and relevant facilitated discussions was a treat.

Even though I was among my peers, being on the earlier side of my career allowed me to use this opportunity to be a sponge and soak in all the knowledge and insights shared throughout the day. To top off an incredible day, all of the winners were honoured at a glitzy gala dinner. A celebration indeed.

I am now really excited for what belonging to this network means. A re-occurring theme was the idea of women supporting other women. I'm hopeful being part of the Women's Executive Network will open some new doors and that this incredibly powerful network will help me further advance the work and vision of SoJo.

 
 
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Kanika talking about SoJo on the main stage
This past weekend, SoJo participated in the SociaLIGHT conference. This is the same conference that SoJo launched its public beta exactly one year ago. SociaLIGHT and SoJo are often seen as sister companies, as we both launched at the same time, have the same vision of the future and work in a very complimentary fashion to deliver on our respective organizational mandates.

The conference came in great anticipation. The team hustled for the past month to re-launch newer and improved SoJo in time for the event. 5 SoJo team members signed up to participate at the conference, to stand at our booth, demo the site and engage first-hand with our users.

I was excited for the opportunity to deliver a keynote on the main stage, to share SoJo's story; how we came to SociaLIGHT, what it took to launch at such a big event, and the successes achieved as a result of the public launch and learnings acquired over the past year. It is my hope that I inspired the 1000-person audience to have the courage to act on their ideas. SoJo's first major milestone was its public launch at SociaLIGHT, and since that launch, we've come a long way.

The following day, I delivered a more intimate, interactive and hands-on workshop to a smaller group of participants on the "how-to" of turning ideas into action. Although everyone was tired from such a high-energy event the previous day, even at 5pm on Sunday evening I was in a room filled with engaged and excited individuals eager to learn.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend was the love and energy shared by everyone present. A number of delegates who saw SoJo launch last year approached myself and members of the team with great pride, to see us again, but to also say: "I was there when it all started." I'm thrilled that our users and community share in the success and pride of SoJo, as this is a tool for them, built by them. Overall, SociaLIGHT was an incredible weekend and SoJo couldn't have been happier to share our journey with this wonderful organization!  

 
 
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SoJo is now mobile-friendly
November 11 was the target soft-launch date for the newest version of SoJo's site, and I'm proud to announce that our team was successful in holding to this deadline.

Over the past 2 months, our development team has been diligently working to convert the current version of http://theSoJo.net on a responsive framework written in HTML5 and CSS3. This product launch went largely unannounced, as to the average user, SoJo looks the exact same. This is our first maintenance update. A web-based product will never be complete, and while it's tempting to continue to add features, this launch allows us to support more fundamental functional requirements: namely improving load time, scalability, mobile-friendliness, ease of upgrades, etc.

This whole experience has taught our team the importance of budgeting organizational resources to maintenance. Up until now, SoJo has been busy building the site and each product launch consisted of new features and upgrades. Since the last product launch, Jesse has been pulling his hairs fixing unforeseen bugs, and I've been consistently shocked by unexpected surprises on the live site. It is our hope that this newer technology will leave behind the unpleasant surprises and allow the Product team to produce at a more optimal pace. Further, building with a newer technology is creating the foundation to set SoJo up for forward-looking success. The website is now optimized for viewing on mobile devices and is an even more accessible resource.

There is no doubt that launching a new product is more exciting for the team than a maintenance update. Although there is no press coverage this time (unlike our Beta and official Launch), this launch is equally rewarding, as its a great feeling to see this product just get better each time.

Our databases were migrated live on the 11th, our servers shut down on the 12th and the team is working diligently to iron-out the kinks. Please bare with us; http://theSoJo.net will look spectacular in a few days!

 
 
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Trevor working on SoJo from Latin America
This post was written by founding team member, Trevor Gair.

Although not my idea, SoJo became my baby. I am so grateful to have played a role in its early stage creation. From the outset, my primary role evolved into building SoJo’s community. This was appropriate. I love to connect people, learn about new media and own a licence to experiment.

From Guatemala, on March 8, 2011 I sent SoJo’s first tweet. From there I tackled Facebook and LinkedIn with a goal of spreading word of SoJo’s mission to make new friends and inspire action. Later my duties would include the monthly SoJo e-Journal newsletter and several rounds of feedback solicitation from early adopters.

Building an online community is the underestimated pillar of successful internet business today. Inspiring individuals to believe in and actively support an avant-garde concept is challenging. Engaging them deeply enough so that they become advocate users even more so. I am so pleased to acknowledge that already thousands of changemakers are making good on their passions through SoJo and that the budding community is one of the contributing elements.

I have never lived in Toronto and so always worked with the growing SoJo team remotely. In fact, it was eight months working with Kanika virtually before we actually met in person. This had a profound effect on my relationship with and outlook on the venture. I believe it helped me to think like a typical SoJo user – somewhat isolated, dreaming big and working hard. In essence, I have lived one of the core pillars of what SoJo seeks to foster – that there are no barriers to building what you are passionate about seeing exist.

This October I made the decision to pass forward my responsibilities within the SoJo team and embark on an international voyage that I have been dreaming about for years. My decision to depart bears no reflection on my belief in SoJo’s mission or direction. Since our public beta launch in November 2011, the venture’s momentum has continued consistently in a positive direction - oscillating only intensity during different periods. I believe the future brings with it accelerated growth and success for SoJo. The world is ready for what we envision and the SoJo team will deliver.  

As I left home for new adventures on November 1st, I was able to route my flight itinerary to the Middle East through Toronto. A brief 22 hour window enabled me to share laughs and engage in constructive team building without the need for a virtual Google Hangouts. It was special and truly brought to life the quality of individuals that Kanika has assembled to help make SoJo a reality.

I wish the SoJo team all the best going forward. I will be following closely. I can’t wait to see my baby all grown up!

Follow Trevor's international adventures through Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and India at www.trevortravels.weebly.com

 
 
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Yesterday SoJo hosted its second-ever team-wide meeting. The first meeting took place 5 months ago and it was imperative at getting the team better connected to SoJo, aligned with our core values and fuelled the momentum that led to our public launch shortly thereafter. For most of our team members that joined in the Spring, the honeymoon stage was now over. The Fall is always a busy time, however it was apparent that some of our team members were over-worked and found it increasingly difficult to manage their SoJo commitments in addition to other commitments.

A team meeting was long over-due. It was important to bring everyone together to welcome the new team members, get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations, re-energize the group and reconnect everyone to the greater vision that we're all working towards.

The meeting kicked-off with a surprise in-person appearance from Trevor. Being based in Calgary, this was his first opportunity to meet the team for the first time, which was motivating to the group. He used this same opportunity to formally say goodbye to the team as he heads off to his Asian adventure. While we're sad to see Trevor leave, November 1st was the first day of Zainab's full-time position with SoJo.  Jesse started working full-time with SoJo last month and it is great to have a full-time team work with me to bring SoJo to the next level. Both Jesse and Zainab opted to join SoJo full-time at virtually no pay over the stability and security that comes with full-time jobs. Although SoJo doesn't have the cash in its bank account to pay their salaries Jesse and Zainab are taking a risk and hedging their bets in SoJo's favour. Fingers crossed that our fundraising mission comes through...

It is an empowering, validating and humbling feeling to have very smart individuals who I respect greatly share a similar burden and commitment with me. The responsibilities and expectations of the full-time team members will increase which will allow us to accelerate our outputs. But it is also my hope that they their increased commitment will lead to an increased connection, excitement and belonging to SoJo!

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Zainab and Jesse, SoJo's newest full-time team members holding SoJo's Manifesto
 
 
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Yesterday during the presidential debates I logged onto twitter to follow the live commentary and reactions from my friends (which was much more engaging than the real debate). To my pleasant surprise I found a freshly published article on Forbes.com: From a Master's Thesis to a Social Startup and a UNESCO Endorsement This article is SoJo's debut in Forbes, and it was a great feature profile that will help SoJo with its outreach efforts. Going to Forbes.com, I noticed this was the most popular article on the home page. I had a glowing smile on my face, especially after having a not-so-good day.


I'm often asked how SoJo has been so successful in getting mainstream media attention. For some of our earlier stories, SoJo proactively reached out to reporters, followed-up and was effective at pitching its story. In most other cases media came to us.

The writer from Forbes sent me a message through SoJo's generic contact form on Friday afternoon. This message found its way to my inbox Monday mid-day. That same day the writer and I had an interview. We exchanged a couple of follow-up emails and the story was published on Wednesday.

When asked how he came across SoJo in the first place, he said:
"An article from SoJo appeared in one of my social media aggregator newsfeed. Hundreds of articles continuously come through this feed. I was intrigued by SoJo's logo so I clicked on the link...."
Clearly he was impressed by what he saw on SoJo beyond the logo and investigated further.

This is a classic example of how being yourself is the best thing you can do. This is not a story we chased, but rather came to us quite serendipitously. The logo is an authentic representation of SoJo as an organization and http://theSoJo.net and this blog appealed to the writer, who also happens to have history of social activism, allowing him to feel instantly connected to our community.

If you're looking for mainstream media attention, my best advice to you is focus on "'speaking through your actions" and be yourself. When interviews present themselves, instead of trying to "sell" your work, let your passion do the talking. Experience has taught me there is no substitute for authenticity and action.
 
 
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Exactly two years ago today, September 20, 2010, I wrote SocialJournal.net's first blog post. At the time, SoJo did not even exist. I was still dabbling with the idea of converting my Master's thesis into an e-book and had no idea what form SocialJournal.net would manifest itself into. Two years later, SocialJournal.net remains a blog; however it has taken on a voice of its own and inspired the creation of many exciting products geared towards helping people take their ideas for social change into action. I would compare the first 365 days of SocialJournal.net as dipping your toes in the shallow-end of the swimming pool. Only eight months after the inaugural blog post did I decide to pursue SoJo full time. The building blocks came in place in the first year: SoJo got its name, defined its brand identify, got more clarity on its purpose, released a private beta and most importantly I realized that SoJo has a long journey ahead. What initially started as a part-time venture spiralled into a vision larger than I can grasp.

In hindsight, the past 366 days of SoJo is comparable to jumping into the deep end of the pool. Where focus was a great challenge in SoJo's first year, this past year was marked by execution. I learned how to set a direction, quickly realign our focus, set goals and accomplish the tasks at hand. Despite this new focus, I was still very open to seizing new opportunities; but also struggled with prioritization.

Without a technical team in place, I had the tenacity to endeavour to launch SoJo's first public site at the SociaLIGHT conference, in front of 1000 people. Given the resources we had at the time, it was a huge risk. Leading up to the launch, it was 3 weeks of hustle, staying calm in very stressful situations and a great deal of nerves. Alas the hard work paid off, and not only did SoJo have a successful launch -- we effectively send out a message to our community: To opt for courage over fear. The first step to action is putting yourself out there, and SoJo led by example. Later on in the year, SoJo published its Manifesto, a set of guiding principles and core values which would ultimately influence every decision made.

SoJo finally got a home! Although it took a couple of months to feel fully welcome in Ryerson's Digital Media Zone, I am now proud to tell everyone about our home and extremely grateful for being incubated in this incredible environment. The support received from this community over the last few months has been phenomenal.

Through various speaking engagements, I started becoming excited about the possibilities of SoJo emerging as a thought leader in social innovation, effectively using technology as a vehicle for social change, and more generally on taking ideas into action.

With the press coverage and increased credibility came more attention. As the founder of SoJo, I was now being approached by many folks for advice and help. Although humbling to know that people respect your opinions, I learned and continue to learn how to push back and place and increased value on my time.

I recognized the need to work smarter, not harder. In efforts to get myself better organized and not get bogged down by my inbox, I challenged myself to email-free Saturdays -- and have since disabled all notifications on my phone. More than ever do I acknowledge the importance of not being connected to my work 24/7.

I felt like a small fish in a big pond when taking SoJo's first international trip to the UK. That trip inspired a strategic move a few months later to launch SoJo out of Beta. Moving forward, SoJo needs to move out of the sandbox and into the real world. Yes people are more critical and have endless expectations, but taking SoJo out of Beta has given myself and the team confidence to share SoJo and highlight all of its strengths; namely our endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, reaching over 15,000 individuals during its beta test phase and creating the most comprehensive collection of informational resources and tools geared to helping early-stage social innovators take their ideas into action.

Yes, we have a site to be proud of, but this latest product launch's greatest accomplishment was without a doubt the success of bringing together SoJo's team. We held our first team meeting only 3 weeks before the launch. 366 days ago I clearly stated that SoJo's greatest challenge ahead is its people; on boarding and managing the right people to the team. Human resources will remain an ongoing challenge, however it is no longer our greatest challenge.

SoJo has been incredibly lucky with its people this year. Our co-designer experiment was extremely successful. Technical talent joined at the right time. Linus came in time to see our public Beta to a successful launch, Jesse joined in time to see SoJo's post-beta launch, and Rebecca joined as our first female developer. Despite being lucky with technical talent, my 8-month long search for a CTO came up dry. After countless hours into the process and utter exhaustion, I have shifted my energy away from this full-time search. We have since opted to crowd-source SoJo's CTO. An idea that is experimental; as brilliant as it is risky. Necessity forces you to be creative, and I'm hopeful this will be a great interim solution. We recruited more senior talent to help in communications, outreach and partnerships.

SoJo broadened out its mandate. We moved from serving youth to serving first-timers, and from projects to social innovations. SoJo also created its own legal structure: the hybrid social venture. Two moves which will serve as an integral foundation moving forward. Disappointments were inevitable, and with time became better at dealing with disappointments.   

A breakthrough moment emerged when I came up with a viable idea for a business model. After nearly 2 years of people asking me: "how will SoJo make money" what a relief to finally have some answers. May I remind you that our focus up until now has been proving the value of SoJo, and not monetizing it. As such, SoJo is a living breathing example of what can be accomplished with very little money.

A theme that emerged throughout the year is the importance of listening to your body and taking care of yourself, and the value of taking a break.  The past 12 months have been a record for the amount of times I got sick. In the new year, I vowed to be living proof that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into the ground. Although I no longer romanticize struggle, considering I suffered from a near burnout only a couple of weeks ago, it is clear that I still have a long way to go...

Moving forward our greatest challenge will be managing growth. Graduating from an entirely bootstrapped early-stage startup to a growing startup that needs to accelerate its pace of development and acquire newer resources to get started. Although I'm intimidated by what lies ahead -- when looking back at the past year, past behaviour has shown that miracles are possible and that SoJo has consistently been able to overcome adversity. Bring it on!


 
 
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Last night SoJo had its first-ever non-work related social. Previous socials have been attached to meetings, or work-related activities. The only agenda for last night was to have fun, and I think that was accomplished. The launch party was the only other time the team came together in a more casual setting. Only at that point did I realize the value of our team getting to know each other outside of work, and build more personal relationships with one another. Everyone is giving their time to build SoJo's vision, most of whom are extremely busy with full-time jobs and other commitments. The social aspect of SoJo is extremely important for team building and strengthening the connection everyone feels the organization they work for.

Based on a survey and suggestions from the team, we went bowling at Toronto's oldest functional bowling alley. It felt like we were back in the 70's, with nostalgic music, manual score keeping, and having to physically change the pins. A little skeptical first, entering into such a run-down place, the energy quickly turned around into a super non-competitive, friendly and encouraging environment.

In many ways, this social felt like a school trip.
We took the subway outside of the city together; a list of attendees was written to ensure no one was left behind; teams were 'strategically' picked so individuals who do not normally work together got to interact and make new friends. A little bit of orchestration went a long way to ensuring everyone was included in the group and had a good time.

Having the pleasure of introducing everyone to my favourite burger-joint topped off the evening. Although incredibly diverse, we all had great conversation around the table sharing stories, laughing at jokes, and connecting over things unrelated to SoJo.

In hindsight, I invested a lot of time in organizing this social: coordinating everyone's schedules to find an accommodating date, seeking consensus on an activity, researching venues and managing logistics. That time was well spent as I see the value that will add to overall team dynamics. I now hope the rest of the team can step up to organize future socials. Salsa dancing is next on the list, stay tuned for stories...

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Enjoying amazing burgers after a few rounds of bowling on the Danforth, in Toronto.
 
 
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Strategic planning in a Cafe
Back from a wonderful vacation, I start this week beaming with energy and excitement. As entrepreneurs, we often don't give ourselves space to breathe, let alone permission to take an extended break. I initially had apprehensions when booking my tickets, but now thank myself.

More than ever do I appreciate the importance of giving yourself permission to have a break, without the guilt. There is always work to be done. With such a grandiose vision, it is hard to feel like you 'deserve' a vacation, as all you can see is the work that still needs to be completed. When you're at the helm it is scary to leave a team that has been so dependent on you. Timing will never be perfect for a vacation, however a vacation at the right time allows you to work smarter, and not harder. My past two weeks were a mix of relaxation, sleep and recharging the body combined with inspiration, fresh perspectives and strategic thinking.

Being disconnected from email and all incoming communications was a treat. Part of me still wishes I had my "out of office" message on in my inbox. With all the chatter and inflow of communication, it is difficult to shut off the mind, give it a break and decompress; going to the countryside with limited connectivity forced me to do so. Biking (and getting lost) through winding cobblestone streets allowed me to get inspired by the history and beautiful architecture that surrounded me. Having breakfast in a park with a passionate social activist hearing about the effects on the economic crisis gave me better insights. Spending my days in Parisian cafes people watching, observing my surroundings with an open mind allowed me to think and imagine new ideas.

Breaking free of my daily-grind in Toronto to do the above will undoubtedly add value to my work with SoJo.

SoJo is at a really good place now: We've officially launched our public site and now get to do the fun stuff of reaching out to users, building our brand and making SoJo known. In parallel, I will now focus my energies on conceptualizing and developing SoJo's next product. Going back to a clean slate and imagining possibilities is exciting and exhilarating. That being said, this next phase of growth with be equally challenging and I'm ready for what lies ahead.

I used to have this attitude, and among my entrepreneur friends I hear this all the time "I don't have time for a vacation / break, I'm too busy, I have too much to do, etc..."  I have no idea where the past year has gone, and as such, it is upon us to make the time to reset our mind and body. If we do not consciously make the time, it will slip through our fingers without second thought.


 
 
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." - Henry Ford

SoJo's entire team came together for the first time less than 4 weeks ago. It is safe to assume we kept together, as yesterday SoJo had an incredibly successful official launch. With primarily remote and virtual interactions, everyone worked together as one cohesive unit to create magic.

While still in bed at 5:45am, with great anticipation I checked out newly released http://theSoJo.net. The first thought that came to mind as I was browsing the completed product: SoJo has the most incredible team. I couldn't be prouder of the product we released and of the incredible people who were instrumental in bringing it together.

The chemistry found in our team is something quite special. Although incredibly diverse, what unites everyone is their passion for SoJo. Even under a high-pressured environment with super aggressive timelines and a multitude of mini-setbacks, I did not hear a single complaint. Everyone owned SoJo and took it upon themselves to achieve their individual goals to meet a shared milestone. It has been a pleasure to see everyone grow over the past few weeks. New skills were acquired. A deeper understanding of the product was gained. And an even greater sense of belonging to SoJo was felt.

We have a team that looks out for each other. In order to do well (and to make the world a better place), we need to be well ourselves. Just shy of midnight, the night before the launch, editor Marc and designer Bill physically escorted me out of the office. After 15 continuous hours of plugging away, they had the foresight to remind me that I, too, am human.  

To celebrate the launch and UNESCO's endorsement, SoJo hosted its first ever party. Invitees were primarily partners, supporters and users of SoJo. Overwhelmed by a room packed with great energy and pride, I was humbled and in awe by the outpouring of compliments geared directly towards the team.

Last night, after seeing the team interact with each other at the bar and reflecting on what was accomplished over the past few months, did I acknowledge for the first time the intangible, yet beautiful team culture SoJo is fortunate to have. It feels as though this culture organically built itself over the past few weeks.
Rare and a further testament to how amazing Team SoJo is!
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Toronto-based SoJo Team - Photo taken by Calvert Quatch
 
 
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On Saturday, June 2nd SoJo hosted its first ever team meeting. A year and a half into operations, this first team-wide meeting was well overdue. Although we've had tons of meetings in the past, all of the meetings were centred around discussing a certain issue/task. Up until now, there has not been an opportunity to regroup everyone, share our vision, and talk about SoJo with no agenda other than to give everyone a better understanding of how they fit into the team. With so much anticipation for this meeting, I was both excited and nervous. Extremely excited for the opportunity to finally bring the entire team together, but slightly nervous about a less than desired outcome.

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With 3 virtual participants and 12 Toronto-based participants, we miraculously found a date that matched everyone's schedules. Steph was forced to leave an hour into the meeting, after feeling really ill. Thinking she was in bed, to all of our surprise she logged into the video conference and participated remotely for the rest of the meeting. The meeting lasted 5 hours, however time flew by so quickly that we all left wishing for more.

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The Digital Media Zone was a great venue, as it was free and the staff here diligently ensured all of our technical needs were met without a hitch. The day started with an informal lunch and get-to-know-each other icebreaker activities. Everyone was on a mission to determine the oddest foods eaten by their fellow comrades and shared with the group the top of their bucket list.

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We played picture games and told stories about SoJo, which will become the script for SoJo's next video. A skills development session on Networking was much appreciated, knowing that there are no shortage of events that SoJo will be participating in.

The bulk of the Agenda centered around better understanding SoJo. As most of our team is new and works remotely, it was imperative that we have an informal conversation about the organization, share how we got to where we are today, where we are headed, some of our challenges, and big things to look forward to. I am confident that everyone on the team now has a better understanding of SoJo and is even more excited about shaping its future.


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Being the first time that everyone met each other, that too in one place, we were all marked by the differences and dynamism found within the team. It was equally clear however, that the diversity of SoJo's team will be one of its greatest strengths. At a loss of words, Trevor finished the day by saying, Hell yeah, let's do this; representing the renewed energy and excitement felt by everyone onboard.


 
 
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An invitation to keynote an event to a group of students and community of professionals interested in global leadership led me to Ottawa. After networking and meeting with people internationally in the UK and in the United States, a trip to Canada's national capital was well overdue. My meetings in Ottawa went very well, and resulted in new partnerships and collaborations for SoJo.

The only meeting without an "agenda" was a visit to the HUB Ottawa. Part of the global Hub network, HUB Ottawa is a place-based member community and co-working space that offers a unique mix of infrastructure, programming and connections to help people kick-start, co-create and grow enterprising ideas for a better world.

Vinod, the Managing Director of HUB Ottawa is a good friend and in many ways our entrepreneurial journeys have been running in parallel. Always keenly interested in social innovation, Vinod was helpful in connecting me with research participants for my thesis which ultimately led to the creation of SoJo. While I was in the early stages of figuring out what Social Journal would look like, Vinod was percolating ideas of how to make Ottawa a city more welcoming for innovation, and had creative ideas for unconventional ways of getting youth to inform the policy-making process -- and so our journeys began. I started SoJo in Toronto and he set out to transition out of his job to work full-time on bringing the HUB to Ottawa. Despite being in different cities, working in different industries (physical infrastructure vs. virtual technology), and in different life phases (Vinod is married and has a mortgage), in many ways we could relate to each other and would periodically check-in on each other's journeys. We hashed out our shared frustrations around access to financing, the inefficiencies and redundancies that exist in the current social innovation landscape in Canada, used each other as sounding boards, shared updates on mini-successes and talked about the difficulties of letting go of team members.

The same weekend SoJo launched our public Beta, The HUB hosted their first open-house to invite future members to preview their new home. Having the opportunity to see the HUB Ottawa complete and witness Vinod interacting with the members of this community he was instrumental in creating was humbling and exciting. It was great to share in the success of this new venture, an idea which I had a chance to see develop every step of the way on the sidelines.

In many ways our two ventures are very different, however it was great to have a fellow entrepreneur-friend be with me along my journey. No venture is built alone, and both of us have great teams and advisors - however the entrepreneur, the individual who has invested all of themselves in their ventures, face a different set of pressures and challenges. Building a peer-support network of entrepreneurs going through a similar journey (at the same time as you) is very healthy, as they can relate to what you're going through, which allows you to speak open and candidly without fear of judgment. Another companion great to have during this roller-coaster of a journey. 

 
 
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SoJo officially joined the online world of social media one year ago this week. The past 365 days have been filled with lessons learned, challenges and proud successes.    

From the beginning, we placed heavy emphasis on understanding and effectively utilizing the available social media tools. With no prior knowledge of social media, efforts began with organically testing the waters to discover what conversations were being had, what kind of content was being shared and where SoJo might fit into the online ecosystem. Over the course of the Spring, we gradually moved up the learning curve by soliciting tips from some social media-savvy friends, experimenting with different messaging, and developed specific engagement routines.

In June, we drafted the first version of an online communications strategy. The evolving document would help us better understand our objectives and methods for developing SoJo’s online community. In mid-summer we changed our Twitter handle, as we were missing out of a significant volume of traffic. The move was important both a user acquisition and branding perspective.

In addition to learning to reigns of Twitter, we launched our first YouTube Video, and even created a custom-branded Facebook Page.

As we launched the private Beta in July, we began to more closely track some hard metrics from our online activity. The simple list included a weekly account of followers, friends, mentions, clicks and the like. In order to effectively measure our online efforts, we set a target to increase our Twitter followers by 5% a week. It was a reasonable challenge that provided a new framework for our community building efforts. Some weeks we succeeded, and many we didn’t; all the more reason to commit to fulfilling this goal in year 2 of our social media efforts.

A switch from using Twitter.com to the social media management platform, Hootsuite, made it more time-efficient and easier to stay on top of the interactions. In particular, the batch scheduling service allowed me set-up a roster of Tweets to reach different audience at different times of the day, enabling me to work smarter

Following SoJo’s public beta launch in November, we rode high on a wave of support from people across the world congratulating us on our soft launch and sharing content on the SoJo site. It was amazing to see the reach of our connections; something that would be near impossible to know without the likes of Twitter & Facebook.

Now, over the coming months, we expect SoJo’s interactions on social media will continue to grow, adapt to new changes in the online environment and continue to further our organizational objectives. We are keen to adopt new methods, explore new frontiers and discover the most effective ways to engage with our users, partners and supporters. Training a listening ear, finding a voice, building SoJo's online identity, and monitoring our efforts are each a unique challenge. It has taken time, but like each step in our journey, we are much further ahead than we were a year ago today.

If you’ve yet to connect with us online, please do so here.

Written by Trevor Gair, SoJo's Community Builder

 
 
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_I am currently in the thick of creating SoJo's strategic plan and budget for Phase 2. An ambitious vision requires an equally ambitious plan of attack. SoJo now has to deliver on all the promises made last year, while finding the necessary financial resources to sustain the organization. It is safe to say the expectations and pressure have increased exponentially.

We ended 2011 feeling amazing. All of the our efforts over the past year culminated with achieving a major milestone: launching the public beta. The fruits of our labour were evidenced by a strong uptake online, overwhelmingly positive feedback from various stakeholders, and significant press coverage.

As I begin 2012, I find myself overcome with anxiety and a bit of fear. Interesting how the perspective changes overnight. When one milestone comes to an end, you feel like you're on top of the world. But as you endeavour to start a new chapter in your journey, and set to achieve a new and larger milestone, the perspective changes instantly. I'll be completely honesty when I say I'm as daunted as I am excited, as I have no idea how Phase 2 will come to fruition and what is even possible.

Feelings of fulfillment are short lived in this universe. Perhaps that is a good thing. As it forces you to stay grounded and remain focused on the journey that lies ahead. The vision is a moving target, and we must continue to keep on working.

Although a forward-looking attitude is necessary, equally important is not to forget all the positive feelings that came when our last milestone was achieved. We are starting this next Phase with a lot more support and energy than the first one. That should not be lost and it is my hope that all the positive energy that surrounds SoJo will give me the strength needed to overcome the bigger challenges that lie ahead.